By Teresa Ambord
Senior Wire 

Get the most from your medicine

Pill-splitting, 'minders' and other money saving tips


Pill Splitting: A Two-fer Deal

Whatever your opinion about health care reform and Obamacare, you’ve probably noticed that health care is getting more expensive and harder to find. And chances are, it’s only going to get worse. The fact is, the number one cause of bankruptcy in America is medical bills. For most of us, the older we get the longer the line of pill bottles on the shelf grows. Jim Miller, a regular contributor to the NBC “Today Show” and the author of “Savvy Living,” has information that could help you reduce the money you spend for prescription pills.

You’ve probably heard of pill splitting. It can save a bundle on prescription meds, but is it safe? It is if your doctor says it is. Here’s how it works. Let’s say you take a drug with a strength of 1.5ml. Your doctor can prescribe double strength of 3 ml (for certain drugs). The cost may be the same or just slightly more than the cost of 1.5ml. By splitting the pills, you get two for the price of one.

Here are tips from Miller’s article “Pill Splitting Dos and Don’ts.”

First ask your doctor if your med is splittable, and if so, ask him or her to prescribe double strength.

According to Miller, the pills that are most commonly split include those that lower cholesterol and blood pressure, also anti-depressants, and pills that treat erectile dysfunction. If you take any of those pills they may be good candidates for pill splitting, but there may be many others.

Pills that are splittable are usually scored down the middle, so it’s easy to tell where the half point is. If your pills do not appear to be splittable (for example, if they are in capsule form) ask your doctor if there’s another option.

Even though some pills are easy to break in two with your fingers, it’s safer to use a pill splitter to ensure the halves are even. A good pill splitter has a way to grip the pill to hold it secure, and should only cost a few dollars at your pharmacy.

Only split one pill as you need it. You may be tempted to split enough pills to last several days. But split pills will deteriorate faster due to exposure to heat, moisture and air.

Unless your doctor or pharmacist tells you to, don’t split pills in smaller than half parts (like thirds or quarters). It’s easy to make mistakes in dosing, and it also makes the deterioration even faster.

What pills should not be split? Your doctor or pharmacist will tell you. But in general, pills that should never be split include:

• Time released pills

• Pills with a coating that protects your stomach

• Pills that crumble easily

• Pills that irritate your mouth

• Drugs for chemotherapy, anti-seizure medicines, birth control pills, capsules that contain powders or gels.

What is this pill?

This is a topic I’ve mentioned before, but it bears repeating since it happens to all of us. Suppose you find a pill you can’t identify. Maybe it’s in the bottom of your purse, or maybe you found it when you swept the floor. Pills are too expensive to just toss, and too dangerous to guess about.

The answer: Go online to You key in the shape and color and any letters or numbers that appear on the tablets. For example, a pill might say BP on one side and 656 on the other. In the website box marked “imprint,” type in BP656 or 656BP. The pill name and the strength and the reasons for taking the pill should pop right up.

Pill minders

If your relative or friend uses a pill minder (those little plastic boxes where they store the pills to be taken on a given day), pay attention. The pill minders, also sometimes called pill keepers, are great and cost almost nothing. But they’re only as good as the person who fills them. My aunt was still alert and able to live alone well into her 80s. She filled her pill minder herself and did a fine job, until she didn’t.

Her pill minder had four slots for each day, morning, noon, evening, and bedtime. One day her daughter noticed her mom was falling asleep at all hours of the day. She took a discreet look inside the pill minder. All the pills were there in proper order, except for one thing. All four slots contained a sleeping pill. That meant my aunt was taking four sleeping pills every day, instead of one at bedtime.

When her daughter asked why, Aunt Dorothy said, “the pills have to be even.” Fortunately it was an easy fix, and caught early enough to not be disastrous. But it might have been.

Got empty pill bottles? Someone needs them

Until recently I’ve never given a second thought to tossing empty pill bottles into the recycling bin, although I do remove or obliterate the labels from prescription drugs. I was glad to discover there’s a charitable use for them. It’s called the Malawi Project, a 501(c)3 operated out of Indiana.

Malawi is one of the world’s poorest nations, located in central Africa. Prescription medicines are scarce, and when these people do receive them, the drugs don’t come in handy little bottles. They come in scraps of paper that make the drugs vulnerable to moisture, loss and damage, not to mention, the medications are easy for children to get into.

The Malawi Project collects small pill bottles (including over the counter bottles, such as for aspirin), and sends them to Malawi. If you’d like to help, simply save your bottles, whether prescription or over-the-counter. Be sure to remove any labels that have your name on them. You can save up several and then dip them in boiling water or just soak them to make the labels peel off. Or use a thick black marker to make your name and personal information unreadable.

Larger bottles are discouraged, since they cost more to ship and are less useful. When you have several bottles, mail them in a large, flat, manila envelope. Better still, use an envelope lined with bubble wrap.

Not only will you help poverty-stricken people preserve their precious medications, but you’ll also do America’s landfills a favor by reducing the load.

Here’s the address: The Malawi Project, Inc., 3314 Van Tassel Drive, Indianapolis, IN 46240

You can learn more about the Malawi Project online at

What to do with outdated or unneeded drugs

Your pharmacy might have a take-back program for unused medications. Where I live there’s a locking kiosk outside the police station for these drugs.

You may have seen the commercials on TV that warn about family members taking meds that aren’t for them. They may do it for a cheap high or, depending on the drug, to sell them on the street, even if they don’t seem like desirable drugs. If you’re taking pain meds like Vicodin or Oxycontin, be very careful who you allow to know what medications are in your home. Never throw away empty pill bottles that have your name and the name of the drug on them.

Whatever you do, don’t flush meds down the toilet. Waste water treatment plants can’t remove all pharmaceutical chemicals so drugs that are flushed contaminate local waters and kill fish.

If you can’t take the drugs to a disposal site, a better option is to just throw them in the trash. First, remove them from their containers and put them in a sealable container, like a coffee can or a Ziploc bag. Disposal experts say to mix in something undesirable, like coffee grounds or kitty litter. Be sure the container goes in the trash, not the recycle bin.

On a lighter note

And speaking of pills, comedian Dave Barry reminds us “never under any circumstances take a sleeping pill and a laxative on the same night.” Good advice.


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